[OPE-L:2] [OPE-L:223] Re: Chapter 1

Claus Germer (cmgermer@SOCIAIS.UFPR.BR)
Mon, 26 Oct 1998 14:31:02 -0200

The debate about Chapter 1 has been very interesting, and I would like to
add some thoughts about the subject:

1. Marx's starting point was social reality as it showed itself
empirically, and not as it was interpreted by social classes or of
individuals expressing some sort of subjective motivations of human beings'
behaviour. Thus, the equality between commodities, in exchange, is not a
apriori statement, neither is it a deduction from previous axioms. Marx
sees it as an empirical fact: exchange presents itself as exchange between
commodities equal in value. The basis of the equality has to be discovered
by scientific reasoning. For instance, if it is observed that in

x commodity A has an exchange value of y comm. B, this means, in the
language of exchange, that y comm. B is the *value* of x comm. A;

2. if comm. B is the general equivalent (=money), then y comm. B is the
price, or the exchange value of x comm. A in terms of money. Again, y units
of money are said to be the *value* of x comm. A;

3. if it hapens that y comm. B is also the exchange value of z comm. C,
then it is said that

x comm. B and z comm. C have the same value of exchange, or that they have
the *same value* (referring of course to the exchange value). Thus, the
equality of values is recognized to be the basis of exchange.

I think that Marx's starting point was this empirical fact, where
commodities are exchanged as equal in exchange value, without the equality
being seen or expressed as representation of equal labor times. This means
that the equality of labor times as the foundation of exchange is not an
observable fact, consciously perceived by the agents of trade, but results
from scientific analysis. I would say that Marx carried out two
complementary procedures in analysing this subject.

The first procedure is laid out in ch. 1 of C1. The equality of abstract
labor times results from are reassoning that starts from the fact that the
commodity is a product of human labor in a merchant economy. Use value is
produced by labor in its concrete aspect; value by labor in its abstract
aspect (= labor abstracted from its concrete forms). The different forms of
labor are different concrete forms of *labor in general*, which are
measured as times of average social labor. In Marx's theoretical framework
there are no other elements relevant to the problem. I don't see the firm
basis for doubts about the consistency of this conclusion by Marx. Aren't
commodities exchanged as equal values? Isn't *abstract* labor, i.e, labor
abstracted from its concrete forms, a property of the commodity producing

Second procedure: In spite of the above conclusion, the fact that the
producers unconsciously equalize their labor times when exchanging
commodities, does not explain why they should equalize those times as the
values of the commodities: if they have no conscience of the real factor
that underlies the equalization of their commodities in exchange, how could
they be expected to equalize them at all? The answer is that the
equalization based on value does not result from conscious calculation of
the individuals, but is inflicted on them by a law of exchange, with the
mediation of money. Which law is this?

Marx's explanation is to be found mainly in the Grundrisse, and also in C1,
specifically in item 4 (about fetischism) of chap. 1 and in chap. 2. Social
labor is the basis of social production, as in the case of production in
the merchant economy, and is conceived as the mass of uniform socialized
labor available from the existing labor force. It is translated into the
complex interlinkage of the numerous particular forms of concrete labor.
The mass of social labor is distributed among the particular forms of
concrete labor according to the structure of social needs, which is given.
If we assume a simple merchant economy, it implies that the producers are
equal and indepent from each other and owners of their means of production.
Each one of them spends the amount of labor necessary to provide for his or
her survival. Assuming that the existing average productivity of labor
implies that the reproduction of an average individual requires 8 hours of
work per day, each producer will have to work 8 hours a day in average in
order to obtain, by exchange, the bundle of commodities he needs, which
require in average 8 hours of social labor to be produced by several other
producers. In case he has to work more than 8 hours, this will translate
into a price of his commodity that will be interpreted as 'low', and he
will look for a more rewarding activity, causing the price to increase; in
the opposite case, i.e, if a producer gets what he needs working less than
8 hours a day, this will translate into a 'high' price and other producers
will be atracted to this activity, causing the price to fall.

In this way, in a merchant economy it is the multilateral exchange among
the producers - i.e, the market - that adjusts the amount of labor in each
branch of production to the structure of social needs. The market dominates
the producers.


Claus Germer
Departamento de Economia
Universidade Federal do Paraná
Rua Dr. Faivre, 405 - 3º andar
80060-140 Curitiba - Paraná

Tel: (041) 360-5214 - Ufpr
(041) 254-3415 Res.